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Sterlite Copper unit: TNPCB faces flak

Activists say the regulatory body knowingly allowed the plant to operate with shorter chimney stacks

May 02, 2018 12:49 am | Updated 12:49 am IST - Chennai

THOOTHUKUDI,TAMIL NADU, 01/05/2018: During Grama sabha meeting at Mapillaioorani in Thoothukudi on Tuesday some people raised objection to expansion of Sterlite Copper unit and demanded its closure citing pollution. Photo : Handout

THOOTHUKUDI,TAMIL NADU, 01/05/2018: During Grama sabha meeting at Mapillaioorani in Thoothukudi on Tuesday some people raised objection to expansion of Sterlite Copper unit and demanded its closure citing pollution. Photo : Handout

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) knowingly allowed Sterlite Industries to operate its copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi with chimney stacks far shorter than what was legally required, resulting in air pollution, activists hailing from the coastal town alleged at a meeting here on Tuesday.

Based on information obtained from the TNPCB under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the activists released a report under the banner of the Chennai Solidarity Group, stating that chimney heights did not increase, despite the copper smelter unit having increased production tenfold over the past several years.

Addressing reporters, Nityanand Jayaraman, an activist, explained that a low chimney stack would not allow pollutants such as Sulphur Dioxide to disperse properly, as a result of which air pollution levels had increased in the areas situated near Sterlite’s unit in Thoothukudi. He questioned how and why the TNPCB did not initiate action. Alleging that the company was treated favourably by the authorities, the activist said that as against the mandatory design requirement of 69 m for the permitted production of 40,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) in 1996, Sterlite was allowed to operate with a 60 m stack. “The existing plant has a 4,00,000 tpa copper smelting capacity but continues to operate with the same 60 m stack as against the legal requirement of 103 m,” he said.

He further stated that in 2003 and 2004, the existing Sterlite plant was expanded and a new Sulphuric Acid Plant was constructed, for which no consent was obtained. However, the TNPCB later awarded them consent to operate, without insisting on the legally required stack height, which would have cost more, he said.

Thoothukudi resident and member of the Anti-Sterlite Struggle Committee, Fathima Babu, stated that the residents who had been exposed to the polluted air were complaining of respiratory problems, and that cases of cancer had also been found. She said a local doctor had confirmed that some residents had arsenic in their blood.

S. Raja of the Tuticorin Merchants Association told the press that he and other residents were worried for their children and their health and safety, due to the pollution caused by the firm.

The residents have demanded the shutdown of the Sterlite plant. They said they intended to file a complaint with the State Vigilance department authorities to investigate what they alleged were corrupt dealings of the TNPCB officials with the company’s representatives.

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